Fourteen council leaders penned a letter to U.K. Home Secretary Suella Braverman warning her department that they are close to “breaking point” with local services too stretched to accommodate any more asylum seekers arriving in the country.
Signatories of the letter published on Tuesday are the leaders of local authorities across Kent and Medway, located in the southeast of England and on the front line of what Braverman herself described as the “invasion” of asylum seekers who continue to make their way across the English Channel to reach British shores.
The letter explains that since 2015, the county of Kent has “borne the brunt” of what should be a “national issue” in tackling the migration crisis, and warned it simply cannot accommodate the Home Office’s request to take on more asylum seekers.
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Council leaders revealed the local authorities were already directly accommodating 495 Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC), plus a further 120 who are awaiting transfer to the care service or are missing. In addition, Kent councils are supporting former 1,061 USAC individuals who are now adult asylum seekers but who had spent at least some time living in the care system.
The letter also mentioned that the Home Office had previously assured Kent council leaders back in November 2019 that it recognized the exceptional pressures facing the county, which is a destination for nearly almost all asylum seekers crossing the Channel. The Home Office said it would exempt the county from accommodating further adult asylum seekers at the time.
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However, the letter explains that Napier Barracks, a former military barracks now being used to house asylum seekers remains open and operational in the county, accommodating a further 308 single males and now leased by the Home Office until at least 2026. Leaders lament the “significant draw” the facility has “on local resources including the management of large Covid-19 outbreaks, safeguarding, health services, public disorder, a riot and a fire.”
Kent is also home to a further two hotels in Folkestone & Hythe, which are accommodating 139 USAC, a third adult asylum hotel in Ashford, and the large strategic processing site at Manston which has capacity for 3,500 individuals and is now actively accommodating care service users.
Kent’s leaders reminded the Home Office the county has also more than played its part in the “Syrian and Afghan resettlement schemes, Homes for Ukraine, and we have cooperated around our three large Afghan bridging hotels.”
“Put simply, Kent is at breaking point. Our public services including health social care and schools areLeaders of Kent and Medway local authorities in a letter to Home Secretary Suella Braverman
already under extreme pressure from surging local demand and the cost-of-living crisis. We have
approaching 20,000 households on the waiting list for social housing, soaring costs and limited
availability of private-rented sector and temporary accommodation, all fueled by being in the
expensive south-east London periphery whilst having pockets of severe deprivation and low average
Using one town, Maidstone, as an example, the council leaders explain it has seen Housing Register applications increase by 37 percent in one year, and 2,230 requests for help through its homeless service during 2021/22, with data for the next period indicating “a further inexorable increase.”
The private rented sector in the area has been saturated by requests from Probation and the Home Office to “provide housing for asylum seekers and ex-offenders from out of area.” The town is also home to over 400 Ukrainian households, many of which soon need to be rehoused.
“Kent’s housing sector cannot absorb further asylum placements on top of these existing burdens over and above local demand,” the letter warned.
“Secondary schools in Canterbury and Ashford currently have no year 7 and year 9 places for local
children due to the unexpected and therefore unplanned for arrivals of refugee children disproportionately placed by the Home Office in these two local authority areas,” the letter further revealed, adding that local children were having to travel to other towns to access education, placing further financial burden on the council to fund home-to-school transport.
The council leaders further criticized the Home Office on its “problematic” procurement of strategic sites, mainly hotels, for the placement of asylum seekers. It claims there has been “no consultation before sites are established” and says the “Home Office have failed at every turn to seek the expert insight of statutory partners around safeguarding, public health, Prevent, fire safety, NHS capacity, school places, appropriateness of the facility or its location (e.g. issues relating to deprivation, crime profile, rural isolation, risk of trafficking) before residents are in place, and if at all then only after a crisis occurs requiring local intervention.”
The letter called on the Home Office to “utilize the remaining 97 percent of the country to relieve the burden on Kent,” insisting that the department’s current actions are “materially and detrimentally impacting Kent’s residents, communities and taxpayers,” and warning that the current situation is “entirely unsustainable and unacceptable.”